How warm was January? Warm enough to wake a grizzly bear from a mid-winter’s nap.
Craig Lang, backcountry ranger with the U.S. Forest Service in Choteau, reported seeing a grizzly Jan. 5 near the North Fork of the Sun River in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Lang was horseback riding with another Forest Service worker when he saw the bear.
“It was about 150 yards away on Elk Hill,” Lang says. At first he wasn’t sure it was bear.
“It was light silver in color and moving through some trees,” he says. But later he found the tracks, which definitely confirmed what he saw was an adult grizzly.
While a bear wandering about in January is unusual, it’s not abnormal, says Gary Olson, Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife biologist.
“Bears will on occasion come out of their winter den, wander around and go back in,” Olson says. “But they’ll stay close to the den site.”
Bears are not true hibernators, like marmots and bats. That means bears go into a deep sleep, but their body temperature and respiration do not decrease dramatically like in true hibernators. As a result, bears can and do wake up periodically during the winter.
Especially during a warm spell, which January had plenty of.